Last May, while many artists were canceling their North Carolina tour stops, Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace took to the stage at Durham’s Motorco Music Hall and burned her birth certificate. She was protesting HB2, a state law mandating that the state’s trans residents use public bathrooms that align with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Grace felt she could do more good by playing her band’s scheduled concert and making a statement of resistance in front of an audience.
The singer, who publicly came out as trans in 2012, 15 years after forming Against Me!, is now about to release her first book, Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout. And she’s continuing her activism by raising money for LGBT Books to Prisoners, “a trans-affirming, racial justice–focused, prison abolitionist project sending books to incarcerated LGBTQ-identified people across the United States."
Between November 4 and November 18, donations made to LGBT Books to Prisoners will make donors eligible to win one of five signed copies of Tranny. Gender Is Over, the organization behind the slogan jersey that Grace often wears onstage, will donate all collected funds on Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20).
“It’s great having an outlet for charity work,” Grace told MTV News. “That’s something specifically I talked about a lot around HB2. It’s great that there’s all the attention brought to it, but the thing that you really need to do is financially empower the organizations that are there doing the work. It’s not just about liking something on Facebook. You have to fund the organizations on the ground doing it.”
Trans people, especially trans women of color, are especially vulnerable to the injustices of the prison system. Incarcerated trans people are often housed in facilities of the wrong gender, leaving them vulnerable to violence from prison staff and other inmates. Many trans people, like CeCe McDonald and Ky Peterson, are imprisoned in the wrong facilities for acts of self-defense against gender-based violence.
Reading books by other trans people can be a lifeline for prisoners and non-prisoners alike in a culture that constantly seeks to enforce harmful norms on gender-nonconforming individuals. Grace spoke about the books she read early in her transition that facilitated her journey of self-discovery and self-affirmation.
“I remember really vividly, on the tour I did in between coming out personally and coming out publicly, discovering the book Whipping Girl by Julia Serrano. That was my bible. I read that nightly,” she said. “It was a new concept, the idea of as a trans person demanding rights and demanding respect just as any other human being should have. It completely blew my mind.”
Grace also read My Face for the World to See, the published diaries of trans actress Candy Darling. “That’s kind of an opposite read in that it really is a diary and these most personal thoughts in the plainest, simplest words,” she said. “That was something I really drew from in my book, wanting to make sure that was present. Just the most base form of that emotion. It wasn’t something that had really dawned on me as much — which is really unfortunate, having been a trans person looking for people who had done it before, people who had been there to look up to, look for guidance from.”
In addition to accepting monetary donations, the Gender Is Over giveaway allows participants to purchase copies of Grace’s memoir to be sent directly to LGBT Books to Prisoners. (Those who are financially unable to donate can still enter to win a signed copy of Tranny.)
“You hope it finds people who identify with it and can relate, just to make that human connection,” Grace said of her hopes for the memoir. “That’s a book, right? It’s like a friend like that. It helps you understand yourself when you read it. What a tool that is for prisoners.”